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Saudi Arabia says king’s contact with US helped ease Al-Aqsa mosque tensions

Al Aqsa mosque

 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said on Thursday King Salman had been in contact with the United States and other world powers to try to prevent Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City being closed to Muslims and to defuse political and religious tensions.

Israel overnight removed all security infrastructure it had put in place this month at Muslim entrances to the al-Aqsa mosque compound and on Thursday Muslim elders urged worshippers to return there to pray.

“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, has held contacts with many world leaders over the past few days,” the announcement from the Saudi royal court, published by state news agency SPA, said.

Saudi Arabia is custodian of Islam’s most revered places in Mecca and Medina while Jordan is the custodian of Al-Aqsa mosque, its third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews.

King Salman contacted the U.S. government and called for an end to restrictions on entry to the mosque, the statement said, saying that developments showed this push had been successful.

The king “stressed the need for the return of calm,” and called for respect for the sanctity of the compound, it said.

Muslim elders urged worshippers to return to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Thursday after Israel backed down in the face of 10 days of often-violent protests and removed all security measures it had installed at the site.

Israel’s decision marks a significant climbdown by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and comes after days of diplomatic effort by the United Nations, the involvement of President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy and pressure from countries in the region including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The dispute began after Israel installed metal detectors, cameras and steel barriers at Muslim entrances to Al-Aqsa compound, also known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, following the July 14 killing of two Israeli policemen by Arab gunmen who had concealed weapons there.

The extra security provoked days of unrest, with violent clashes on the streets of East Jerusalem. Israeli forces shot and killed four Palestinians in the fighting, and a Palestinian man stabbed and killed three Israelis in their home.

Most Muslims have refused to enter the compound for the past two weeks, instead praying in the streets around the Old City.

But Muslim elders declared themselves satisfied that Israeli authorities had reverted to how security was before July 14.

“The technical report showed that all obstacles the occupation (Israel) put outside Al-Aqsa mosque were removed,” said Abdel-Azeem Salhab, the head of the Waqf, the Jordanian-funded trust that oversees Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites.

 

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